Luxury Resorts: It's isolated yet centrally located, Asian-inspired but Miami cool, a stylish backdrop for movies and the exclusive retreat of celebrities. Its name: Mandarin Oriental Miami.
I've been there before...when it was new on the scene. At the top of its hotel game I was impressed with its offerings: martini haven named M-Bar with 250 selections, spa blessed at its opening (and each following year) by a Buddhist monk, anointed celebrity magnet. But on its 10th anniversary, had it fallen prey to the unflattering remnants of age or did it remain on this lofty perch? This return was to evaluate. My verdict: perch position is secure.
Mandarin Oriental's water-bound setting is the sunny tip of a man-made 44-acre island, Brickell Key. Reached after crossing a short bridge from the city center, Miami appears like surround sound-downtown city sights to the west, Miami Beach to the east-both views over a sapphire span of Biscayne Bay.
Upon arrival the stage is stylishly set: contemporary Asian-inspired décor, dramatic two-story window lined lobby and a palm tree silhouette-framed backdrop. At first sight, it's apparent: Miami and its Mandarin Oriental are hot, hip, global destinations.
Though a decade old, recognition has continue-AAA Five Diamond Award, Miami's No. 1 Zagat-rated restaurant, Florida's sole Five-Star spa.
All of the above underscored my renewed appreciation. It was not unlike crossing paths with a former boyfriend, only to validate the initial attraction to him. How do I love thee, Mandarin Oriental Miami? Let me count the ways:
The culinary creation of Chef Conley (protégé of Todd English noted for Olives fame) was and remains "the" restaurant at the forefront of Miami's dining scene. Operating from a white marble open kitchen, Chef utilizes a blend of Mediterranean flavors with Asian influences to impress-his most noted dishes include miso-marinated duck breast and "A Study in Tuna Roll" (menu translation: raw tuna, tempura avocado, Asian sauces and osetra caviar). And the accompanying wine collection is equally impressive: 700 wines.
Azul showcases a premium over-the-water view and effortlessly reflects the hotel's unabashed attention to its guests' every need-reading glasses in a variety of strengths and pashminas of every color for warmth (tennis star Anna Kournikova has been known to borrow one of the black wraps).
But if in a more casual mood, Café Sambal is a smart dining alternative. Its prime feature: Sushi and Sake bar.
2. The Spa
Set in a color sea of gold, blue and brown, this 15,000-square-foot, tri-level sanctuary is known for innovative and restorative treatments, ones inspired by nature in combo with the ancient traditions of Chinese, Ayurvedic, European, Balinese and Thai cultures.
Spa Director Osa Mallo explains the philosophy, "Through design, we've created an experiential journey that is designed to awaken the senses." And one's senses are indeed awakened in 17 private treatment rooms, especially its six split-level spa suites. These suites feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows with bay views and private showers. Picture a post-treatment tub soak overlooking Biscayne Bay. This is reality if you've booked a spa suite.
3. Oasis Beach Club
Bordering the infinity-edge swimming pool and a 1.3 mile jogging path is the private beach. Under a canopy of palms and punctuated with colorful chaise lounges, cocoon daybeds, hammocks and luxury cabanas (providing total privacy with the company of flat-screen TVs), attendants are beach butlers. Outdoor massages for singles and couples can be arranged in your cabana; and each evening glistening lanterns transform the beach to an enchanting alfresco getaway. Here, a day at the beach is not exactly like going to heaven, but rather going to heaven with a raspberry mojito.
As if all of the above isn't enough to beckon, significant refurbishment marking the 10th anniversary further enhanced the spa, guest rooms and Presidential suites. The hotel has made a continual commitment to detail. After all, the Presidential Oriental suite's first ever guest was Luciano Pavarotti.
True, Mandarin Oriental Miami is off South Beach's well-known path. The trendy haunt-best described as exotic if you love it, chaotic if you don't-is not the prime choice for many VIPers, who consider Brickell Key's geographic placement as perfection.
Need A-list confirmation? I'll name names. During the filming of Marley & Me, Jennifer Aniston made the hotel her two-month home. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett are frequent fans who've shared their partiality with friends Tom and Katie (as in Cruise and Holmes), now accustomed guests themselves.
In other words, Mandarin Oriental Miami appeals to those who have a preference for exclusivity. Best part: It's where non-VIPers can expect, and graciously receive, top-notch service as well.
Final word: On the applause meter, I'd say the Mandarin Oriental Miami is a hit. Need I say more?
Mandarin Oriental Miami
500 Brickell Key Drive
Miami, Florida 33131